Cinderella was a hidden gem, a beautiful and hard worker unknown to the world until she finally came into the spotlight by taking advantage of her big chance to meet the Prince. Cinderella’s story ended there. For Gonzaga, their fairy tale was just the beginning. In 1999 they made it all the way to the Elite Eight, where they lost to eventual champion Connecticut. Gonzaga had capitalized on their moment in the sun, beating three higher seeds along the way. But unlike Princess Cinderella, Gonzaga’s story has yet to come to an end.
It is hard to discuss college basketball in the northwest without bringing up Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have reached the NCAA Tournament for 15 consecutive seasons, tied for the fourth longest active streak and tied for the seventh longest streak ever. They have four alumni currently playing in the NBA, and they graduated one of the greatest players in NBA history from their program in John Stockton. They even attained the No. 1 ranking in the country for the first time last season. For all intents and purposed, Gonzaga is a powerhouse program.
The strange thing, though, is that every year Gonzaga is forgotten about until the big dance rolls around. They are the San Antonio Spurs of college ball, efficient and consistent while receiving little coverage outside of their locale. It boggles the mind how a dominant program like Gonzaga consistently flies under the radar and ends up as a perpetual Cinderella.
One reason is the location. The west coast is, in general, under-reported nationally. This is especially true of the northwest. The time difference means a lot of sporting events occur too late for east coast viewers, and many major news outlets are centered on the east coast. Even ESPN, with a secondary headquarters in Los Angeles, has been mocked for their east coast bias not only by many fans but by their own writers. Currently, there is only team in the top 25 of the Associated Press (AP) poll that resides in the Pacific timezone, San Diego State at No. 8. Going by Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), a neutral measure of a team’s quality used by the NCAA, there should be three teams in the top 25: the aforementioned San Diego State, as well as UCLA and Gonzaga. That might be a coincidence, but the perception is still there.
Being that Gonzaga has made their trip to the NCAA Tournament an annual tradition, the Bulldogs have certainly become a well-known brand. However, even being the No. 1 overall seed at the end of last year did not bring them any particular fanfare going into this season. Another reason their success often remains out of the spotlight is their opponents. Gonzaga, playing in the West Coast Conference, has to venture out of their division to play fellow big time programs. They are not going to receive any significant amount of coverage for beating down on the University of Portland, and when a team isn’t seen it basically doesn’t exist.
After Gonzaga began their run of success 15 years ago by making the conference finals, head coach Dan Monson parlayed his tiny program’s success into a job at a major conference school and left for Minnesota. Perhaps he too thought that Gonzaga was a Cinderella, and their big success that season was the end of the story. However, under coach Mark Few, Gonzaga has made the big dance every single year, and the perpetual Cinderella story of the tournament has only one fitting ending: a championship.